Dir. Jacques Rivette, France, 1961, 141 mins, subtitles
Cast: Betty Schneider, Gianni Esposito, Francoise Prèvost
Review by Will Davis
What with the current political climate and myriad conspiracy theories of post-9/11, the BFIs release of Jaqcues Rivette’s Paris nous Appartient seems fittingly topical. Inspired by the heightened paranoia of the Cold War and the fears around Fascism and Communism and global conspiracy, what makes this such an extraordinary piece of work is that Rivette’s ultimate aim seems to be to explore the fact that evil is everywhere and that one faction alone cannot be held solely responsible for its existence in the world.
Here is the story of a young student in Paris, Anne Goupil (Schneider), who finds herself drawn into a mystifying series of events after she meets young theatre director, Gerard (Gianni Esposito). Entranced by Gerard, Anne willingly enters his circle of friends’ garbled web of fear. What they are afraid of exactly is left unclear: Anne only believes that she can prevent the fear-related suicide of Gerard if only she assists them. But when Anne’s actions are compromised by love and pride, she is destined to learn the sad reality of just what consequences mindless fear can result in.
Rivette, contributor to the legendary Cahiers du cinéma, began shooting Paris in 1957 and took two years to finish his film. The result is a very different film to his later, more surreal Alice in Wonderland-like work Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Céline and Julie go boating), but certainly one no less worthy. Here Rivette cleverly parallels the unfolding panic of his story with the love triangle between Anne, Gerard and Terry (Francoise Prévost). Terry provides mystery and glamour that keeps Gerard at her side. Yet as soon as his long running ambition to realise a production of Pericles on stage seems possible – in other words the possibility of accepting life as a working man rather than a tortured genius - she leaves him. Anne meanwhile is attracted to the Gerard and his circle precisely because of this same mystery and glamour – the allure of conspiracy. In this sense, Terry comes to represent the woman she longs to be. But in the end tragedy reveals Terry to be little more than a fool. As Terry herself is forced to finally concede: ‘Evil has more than one face’. By attempting to turn the woes of the world into a single institution the havoc she and her circle have witnessed has been wrought by none other than themselves.
This is a long, complex and esoteric film that will doubtless appeal to theorists and enthusiasts of 1960s French cinema. The cast even includes cameos from the crème de la crème of the French New Wave – Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol. It might not be the most enjoyable film to sit through, but this is classic film-making at its grandest.
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